North and South

North and South

by

Elizabeth Gaskell

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North and South: Chapter 30 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
At Mrs. Hale’s request, Mrs. Thornton comes to visit her the next day. Mrs. Hale has had a difficult night and looks much worse. Even Mrs. Thornton, who had doubted the reality of Mrs. Hale’s illness, is softened by the woman’s poorly appearance. Feebly, Mrs. Hale asks Mrs. Thornton to be a friend to Margaret in the event of Mrs. Hale’s own death. Haltingly, Mrs. Thornton promises to be of what assistance she can to Margaret, though she is not given to tender affections. She also promises to correct Margaret if she ever sees her doing wrong. Though not entirely satisfied with this answer, Mrs. Hale thanks Mrs. Thornton.
Mrs. Thornton is clearly uncomfortable promising to befriend Margaret, though she seems all too eager to take on the role of correcting Margaret if she ever sees the girl doing something wrong. However, Mrs. Thornton isn’t heartless enough to deny another mother who is on her deathbed. Her promise will come back to haunt Margaret.
Themes
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Margaret and Dixon, meanwhile, discuss the possibility that Frederick might soon arrive and plan how to keep his coming a secret from all but the family. As they all watch Mrs. Hale suffer, Margaret must “act the part of a Roman daughter” to give strength to the despairing Mr. Hale.
The “Roman daughter,” or “Roman Charity,” was a figure from ancient literature, who breastfed her father who’d been jailed and sentenced to death by starvation. It’s easy to see how such a figure captures Margaret’s relationship with her father by this time—he is reliant on her for emotional sustenance.
Themes
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Later that evening, the doorbell rings, and Margaret answers it to discover Frederick, who has arrived before his letter. Her heart is lightened as Margaret welcomes and tends to the brother she hasn’t seen in years. The family reunion is “a joy snatched in the house of mourning.” Margaret rejoices that Frederick has a knack for conversing with Mr. Hale, for nursing Mrs. Hale, and reminisces with her about Helstone.
Frederick’s coming is not only a joyous reunion, but a chance for Margaret at last to unload some of her burden onto another capable shoulder, and the old family circle is complete once again, albeit temporarily.
Themes
Nostalgia and Identity Theme Icon
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Dr. Donaldson warns that Mrs. Hale won’t live for many more days, and Frederick and Margaret grieve together. Frederick suggests that doing is better than mournful thinking at times like these, and Margaret is impressed by the way Frederick channels his energies into helping his parents and Dixon. However, Dr. Donaldson proves correct, and within a couple of days, Mrs. Hale rapidly worsens and dies.
Frederick’s preference for action over morbid introspection seems to fit with his reputation for determined leadership in a crisis. However, Mrs. Hale’s death is the first permanent rupture in the family circle, and nothing will be the same for the Hales from now on.
Themes
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
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In the wake of Mrs. Hale’s death, Margaret quickly rouses herself to be “a strong angel of comfort to her father and brother.” Frederick finds that his preference for action fails him in the midst of grief; he can do nothing but weep. Mr. Hale just sits mutely by his wife’s side. Margaret finds herself reciting passages from the Gospel of John to comfort him.
Margaret quickly reoccupies her role as “angel”—something beyond typical human powers—for the men in her family, pointing to the way that women were expected to be the “angel in the house” in the Victorian era. Margaret takes on a ministerial role for her father, the former priest, reciting the words that would once have come naturally from him. Margaret’s leadership in the home isn’t just physical and emotional, but spiritual.
Themes
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon